BROSSARD - The Canadiens close out the home portion of their regular-season schedule on Friday night against a Tampa Bay Lightning squad desperate to come away with a win.
The Lightning must earn a victory in order to keep their playoff hopes alive as Jon Cooper's contingent currently sits three points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with just two games to go.
While the outcome of the contest won't affect the Canadiens standings-wise, Claude Julien's troops insist that it's significant in more ways than one.
"I know people always want to draw it off as it doesn't mean anything or it's not important, but it does mean a lot. We want to rebound from last game," said captain Max Pacioretty, referencing the 2-1 loss to the Sabres on Wednesday night in Buffalo. "We want to try and play the right way, make sure we bear down on our chances when opportunities are there. We want to feel good about ourselves going into the playoffs. This is an important game for us."
Video: Pacioretty on the importance of Friday night's game
It's also an opportunity for Pacioretty and his teammates to thank the Bell Centre faithful for their unwavering support throughout the year as the Canadiens celebrate "Fan Appreciation Night."
"We know how much they've supported us, whether we're going through the good or the bad. They're behind us. It's time for us to show up and play. Regardless of where you are in the standings, you always get excited for this one," said Brendan Gallagher. "We definitely appreciate everything they give us. This is a little time for us to show them some appreciation."
Who's in, who's out
Andreas Martinsen and Michael McCarron return to the lineup and will play on a line with Dwight King. That means that Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn will both be healthy scratches after suiting up against the Sabres. Steve Ott will also be a healthy scratch for a second straight game.
After being recalled from the AHL's St. John's IceCaps on Thursday afternoon, Brett Lernout will patrol the blue line alongside Nathan Beaulieu against the Lightning. Lernout draws into the lineup after Julien confirmed that Alexei Emelin is out for the final two games of the regular season with a lower-body injury and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday to check on his status for the playoffs.
"It's the Bell Centre. It's known around the world, right? The fans here are great, so I'm excited to get out there in front of them and play my game," said Lernout, who made his NHL debut last season with the Canadiens on April 2 in Florida where he logged 6:30 of ice time before suffering a lower-body injury. "Hopefully, I can finish this game. That's the plan. Injuries happen. Stuff like that happens."
Video: Brett Lernout on playing against the Lightning
The 21-year-old rearguard has three goals, 16 points and a plus-5 differential in 71 games with Sylvain Lefebvre's contingent this season, and he's eager to put his game on display on Friday night.
"I think I really progressed since the start of the year. I'm moving my feet a lot more. I'm more confident with the puck and I'm not just giving the puck away, I'm actually trying to make plays and actually making them," said the Winnipeg native, who was drafted 73rd overall by the Canadiens in 2014. "I'm just thankful to be here right now and show everyone what I've got."
Carey Price will make the 500th start of his NHL career. Following the morning skate, Julien confirmed, however, that the All-World netminder will not be getting the start in goal against the Red Wings on Saturday night in Detroit.
"After the game, there's a good chance that we'll decide not to bring him along with us. We'll make that decision after the game, depending on what happens," said Julien, who also indicated that there's a good chance several players, in addition to Price, will also remain in Montreal following the contest. "By not playing [against Detroit], that gives him four days of rest before our next game."
Video: Julien updates the health status of several players
As for Shea Weber and Jordie Benn, Julien updated their health status, too.
"They'll both be ready for the playoffs," said Julien. "Webby won't play the next two games. He'll be at practice on Monday. Same thing for Benn, who is already skating with the team. He won't play tonight, but he may play tomorrow [against Detroit]."
Phillip Danault was named the 2016-17 recipient of the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy on Friday. The award is presented annually to the member of the Canadiens who played a dominant role during the regular season, without earning any particular honor.
In his first full year with the Canadiens this season, Danault set career-highs in goals (13), assists (27), points (40), differential (plus-5) and games played (80).
"I wasn't expecting that [award] since I got traded here, so it's a great honor. I've been working hard. The whole team has. A couple of guys could also have it, I'm sure. I'll take that one," said Danault. "It was important to have a good year this year. I had a good summer of workouts and I came into camp ready and things got better and better. I moved up the ladder pretty fast. I'm hoping it continues."
Video: Danault on his Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy win